Beirut siege further frays US-Israel ties
Judging from outside appearances, Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir got a distinctly cool reception from President Reagan as he opened his two days of talks here.
At the end of Mr. Reagan's brief meeting with Mr. Shamir, the White House issued a terse statement saying that Reagan had emphasized the need for an early diplomatic settlement of the Beirut crisis and for an end ''by all parties'' to fighting in and around the Lebanese capital.
In what amounted to a criticism of Israel for its 14-hour-long bombing and shelling of west Beirut on Aug. 1, the President told Shamir, according to the statement, that ''the world can no longer accept a situation of constantly escalating violence.'' The President also was reported to have urged the Israeli foreign minister to have his government lift the Beirut blockade and allow food, medicine, and water to reach encircled west Beirut.
This firmness toward Israel was likely to come as good news to some of the Arab governments that have been pressing the President to move toward a more ''evenhanded'' Middle East policy.
But President Reagan's attitude seemed to apply mostly to the immediate, tactical situation around Beirut. It was not clear that the President or his advisers had adopted the kind of strategy or vision that would accommodate Arab proposals for diplomatic movement beyond Beirut, to a larger settlement of the Palestinian question. Indeed, most indications so far are to the contrary.
At a picture-taking session before the Reagan-Shamir meeting, Mr. Reagan and the American officials accompanying him looked grim. Some observers noted the contrast between this meeting and the relatively friendly meeting which the President had had at the end of last week with Shamir's counterpart, the Egyptian foreign minister, Kamal Hassan Ali.
The meeting with Shamir, said one White House official, was ''not intended to be a warm social event.''
The official said that President Reagan's special Middle East envoy, Philip C. Habib, has ''had some real problems proceeding with arrangements'' for a resolution of the Beirut problem because the Israelis were cutting off water and electricity to the city and then bombing and shelling it.
''We have not been getting much cooperation,'' the official said.
President Reagan has in the past said that violations of the Beirut cease-fire were coming from both sides. However, the President's view is that whatever the provocation might have been from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on the latest occasion, the reaction from the Israelis was a matter of overkill.
At the same time, however, the Arabs may be disappointed that the President is not going as far as they would like to see him go; namely, make a political concession to the PLO which would allow it to leave Beirut with some hope that some day it will get the Palestinian state that it is seeking.
The Middle East Policy Survey, a biweekly publication that has high-level sources of information in both the Israeli and American governments, argues in its current issue that while the new secretary of state, George P. Shultz, has shown sensitivity to the Palestinian problem, this does not necessarily mean any major US policy changes. It quotes sources as saying that President Reagan has so far displayed an unshakable belief that an alliance with Israel is a strategic asset. According to the Survey, that runs contrary to traditional State Department views. It also said that when the Saudi and Syrian foreign ministers visited here recently and sought a firm commitment from the US to get Israel to withdraw from Lebanon, Reagan spoke only of US efforts to ''persuade'' Israel to withdraw.
Foreign Minister Shamir told reporters, meanwhile, that Israel would maintain the lastest cease-fire around Beirut ''on one condition: that it will be an absolute and mutual cease-fire,'' not a ''one-sided cease-fire.''